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The UK intends to send some people who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK to Rwanda to seek asylum there. Nobody has yet been sent to Rwanda because of legal challenges.

The Supreme Court held in November 2023 that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful. The Government has decided to continue with the policy; it has signed a new treaty with Rwanda and will shortly propose fast-track legislation, both designed to render the relocation arrangements lawful.

The asylum partnership arrangement

The UK and Rwanda agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership in April 2022. It included a five-year ‘asylum partnership arrangement’ as detailed in a non-binding memorandum of understanding. In December 2023, this was upgraded to a formal treaty signed by the UK Home Secretary and Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The asylum arrangement allows the UK to send people to Rwanda who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK and/or have made irregular journeys to the UK. Rwanda will either grant them asylum or permanent residence. They cannot apply for return to the UK but the UK can decide to request that someone be returned.

Under the treaty, relocated people cannot be removed from Rwanda unless being sent back to the UK. This was not the case under the original agreement.

UK obligations to Rwanda

In return, the UK is providing development funding to Rwanda, with £120 million paid last year. The UK will pay additional processing and integration costs for each relocated person (it has already sent Rwanda £20 million as a down payment). Ministers expect these costs will be similar to asylum processing costs in the UK (around £12,000 per person). The UK has also committed to resettling a small but unspecified number of vulnerable refugees currently in Rwanda.

The arrangement has been controversial, including in Parliament and among some Conservatives. Critics have highlighted concerns about the policy’s legality, practicality, morality, efficacy and expense.

Relocation of ‘inadmissible’ asylum seekers

The Home Office plans to use the relocation agreement to remove people who make dangerous journeys to the UK and are considered ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system. Under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, people’s asylum claims would be inadmissible if they have arrived irregularly since 20 July 2023.

People whom the Home Office wishes to transfer to Rwanda will be identified and referred to the Rwandan authorities on a case-by-case basis, after an initial screening process following arrival in the UK.

Although the agreement focuses on asylum seekers, under the treaty people who have made unauthorised journeys to the UK but not claimed asylum can be relocated to Rwanda as well.

Legal challenges

Nobody has been removed under the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership since the policy was announced. The first planned flight in June 2022 was halted following a controversial European Court of Human Rights injunction.

On 15 November 2023, the Supreme Court found that the Rwanda arrangements are unlawful. In a unanimous decision, the court held that Rwanda was not a safe country because of the risk that it would not decide asylum claims properly and send refugees back to places where they would be persecuted.

The Government has decided to press ahead with the Rwanda policy. It will attempt to make the arrangements lawful through a combination of the new treaty with extra safeguards for refugees; legislation to designate Rwanda as a safe country; and helping the Rwandan Government improve its asylum system.

The treaty has been laid before Parliament and is awaiting ratification. The legislation is expected imminently and will be covered in a separate Library briefing ahead of second reading in the Commons.

International legal issues

Refugee rights organisations object in principle to the use of ‘externalisation’ policies and consider that the deal undermines the international protection regime set up after World War 2. The UN Refugee Agency and other refugee law experts have questioned whether the deal is compatible with the UK’s obligations under refugee and human rights laws. Some of these concerns are summarised in the annex to this briefing.

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